Very few people die in the United States every year from rabies but of this total, at least 70 percent were bitten by bats.

Yes, bats, and the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released June 12 confirms that bats — and not dogs — are the main cause of rabies deaths in the country. Apart from bats and dogs, other rabies carriers are foxes, skunks and raccoons.

The elimination of dogs as a rabies carrier is one of the great successes of the U.S. public health program over the past 80 years. The canine rabies virus variant was first targeted in 1947 and completely eradicated from the United States in 2004.

The CDC called this triumph “one of the most important public health successes of the 20th century.”

Canine-linked rabies, however, remains a major risk in countries outside the U.S., especially those in Africa and Asia, said the CDC report. At least 36 U.S. residents have died from canine-linked rabies while abroad since 1960.

In 2015, the CDC learned that bats were surpassing raccoons in animals testing positive for rabies. It also saw an increase in the number of mass bat exposures, which occurs when 10 or more people are exposed to a possibly rabid bat. This event occurs most often where bats are found living in homes, dorms or campgrounds.

People should try to stay away from bats, said Emily Pieracci, a veterinary epidemiologist at the CDC in Atlanta. She said a bat that doesn’t flee from humans might be rabid.

“A normal, healthy bat will not allow you touch it,” she pointed out.

Pieracci also warned people about the dangers of approaching wild animals.

“You can’t tell whether an animal has rabies just by looking at it,” she said.

Rabies remains active in the wild. It continues to infect bats, coyotes, raccoons, skunks and foxes. Current rabies control measures by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) focus on vaccinating coyotes, foxes and raccoons.

A 77-year-old woman from Wyoming has sadly become the state's first recorded rabies death. It is believed she likely contracted the disease from a bat. Grand Canyon National Park, CC BY 2.0